Intramural Interments in Populous Cities,
and Their Influence Upon Health and Epidemics.
By John H. Rauch, M.D.
Chicago: Tribune Company, Book and Job Printers, 51 Clark Street.
The year after this booklet was published, Dr. Rauch became the Sanitary Superintendent in the newly created Office of the Sanitary Inspectors.
Excerpts from the John H. Rauch paper, written and circulated in 1859, then published as a 68-page pamphlet, illustrated, left, in 1866:
(The first forty-seven pages contained an historic survey of international burial practices.)
From the topography and character of the ground, it will be found that at the highest points, and those very limited, no grave can be dug at a greater depth than five feet the greater part of the year, and in point of fact, few or none are dug deeper than four feet without coming to water, and many still less, particularly in what is called the public part of the City cemetery. The same is the case with the Catholic cemetery; three-fourths of the bodies interred in these cemeteries were deposited in water accumulated there between the time of the digging of the grave and the depositing of the bodies in them. Nine-tenths of the soil is sand, with the exception of the sloughy or swampy parts of these grounds, where peat and alluvium are found intermixed. Owing to this sabulous or sandy nature of the soil, the exhalations from decomposing bodies, and more especially from the shallowness of the graves, must in hot weather be greatly facilitated; while on the other hand the passage under ground of gases and decayed particles of animal matter by percolation, must be greatly assisted by the influence of copious rains; also from the properties of a sabulous soil, it is impossible that the noxious emissions from the dead should be to any extent absorbed or neutralized by its action.
A very marked feature in the topography of these grounds is a series of ridges, with intervening sloughs which, running parallel with the Lake, extend southerly through the Catholic cemetery, and there receiving the drainage of both cemeteries, find a common outlet on the lake-shore less than half a mile north of the Chicago Water Works. The surface drainage of the upper part of the cemetery empties into the Lake through a small stream. The drainage into the Lake from every portion of these cemeteries will be appreciated from their proximity to it, and from the topography of the ground, and the sandy nature of the soil, resting as it does upon a stratum of clay impervious to water, so that when it rains the water percolates through the sand and the decomposing mass of animal matter until it comes to the clay, whence it is carried directly into the Lake.*
*The sextons inform the writer that a stratum of clay is found about eleven inches in depth, extending over three-fourths of the ground owned by lot-holders, embracing that portion of the cemetery between Clark street, and the first ridge or elevation east of it, (in which graves can be dug at all times of sufficient depth), at from two and a half to three feet below the surface. The ground here is flat, and the natural drainage bad; therefore when a grave is dug, the greater portion of the year, through this stratum, the water that is in the sand above it, drains into the cavity below, and soon fills it up on a level with the clay. The graves sunk below the upper stratum of clay thus serve as a means of drainage to their immediate vicinity.
Thus we wrote over six years ago; since which time the population of this city has increased by the addition of over seventy thousand, and in the immediate vicinity of these cemeteries over one hundred per cent., with an increase of business equally great, and in some departments in excess of this proportion. ...
p. 52, cont.
After careful investigation, we learn that the putrefactive process occupies in the Chicago City cemetery, and in the old Catholic cemetery, from five to fifteen years, depending upon the character of the ground, the season of the year, the age, sex, disease, the tightness of the coffin and the material of which it is composed, and the character of the clothing in which the dead are enveloped. At this rate, from the records of interment for the last fifteen years in these cemeteries, there must be at least from 18,000 to 20,000 bodies undergoing decomposition at this time, the same conditions having existed, and in nearly the same proportion for some time.
When it is borne in mind that in these cemeteries 20,000 bodies are undergoing the putrefactive process at this time, and that the same has been the case for the last five years; that three-fourths of these bodies are deposited in a narrow strip of ground, known as the “public grounds” of these cemeteries, where the depth of burial is so shallow that the winds frequently expose to view the coffins in which the dead are enclosed; *
(* The writer is informed by the sextons, that they make it a business to go around the cemetery to cover up the coffins that have been unsanded by the wind several times a year.)
and that the drainage into the Lake, consequent upon the topography and character of the soil, is particularly favorable for carrying these noxious compounds directly into it, thence to be carried south by the lake current to the source from whence the supply of water is obtained; we feel fully warranted in the above assertion.
Since this paper commenced going through the press, the writer has noticed that at a meeting of the Board of Police Commissioners, who by virtue of their office control of the Health Department of this city, held on Friday, March 9th , an appropriation was made for the furnishing of the Pest House, (Lake Hospital), and the purchasing of such articles and medicines as were necessary, with a view, in addition to its present use, to convert it into a cholera hospital this coming summer. This hospital is located on the south-eastern part of the City cemetery grounds, and north-east of the Old Catholic cemetery, and within a short distance from where thousands of bodies are undergoing decomposition. It is built upon sand, surrounded by a fence about ten feet high, with scarcely a blade of grass within the enclosure, and within a short distance from habitations. In order to reach this from every portion of the city, patients would have to be carried through a principal thoroughfare, Clark street, and in many instances they would have to be transported for miles. In their transit they would spread infection wherever they went, as it is a well settled fact that if not contagious, the cholera is nevertheless transmissible through the medium of the atmosphere.
Various attempts have been made from time to time, by citizens, to prevent interments within the Corporate limits. In the fall of 1858 a petition was presented to the Common Council signed by a number of the most prominent and influential citizens of the North Division, remonstrating against further interment in the cemetery under the control of the city. On November 8th, 1858, a report was made on the petition, recommending that the prayer was made on the petitioners to be granted, and the appointment of a Special Committee to take into (p.63) consideration the removal of the present cemetery grounds to new locations, and to report to the Council as soon as possible. This report was concurred in and the Committee appointed, who, on the 14th of February, 1859, reported, recommending the adoption of an ordinance directing the Mayor, Comptroller, and City Clerk, to confer with the managers of Rose Hill Cemetery with reference to the interment of those whom the city would be obliged to bury, and directing that the sale of burial lots in the City cemetery should cease from and after May 1st, 1859. This order was passed by the Common Council March 20th, 1859.
On the 15th day of February, 1860, an agreement was entered into between the City of Chicago and the Rose Hill Cemetery Company, by which the said Company agreed “to set apart and appropriate a section of the cemetery grounds of said Company, as a burial place for such bodies as said City of Chicago, by its proper officers, might direct to be there interred,” and such others as might be desired by the City authorities to be interred in the same section of the cemetery at rates agreed upon. *
* A similar arrangement has been made with other cemeteries.
From some inexplicable cause, this agreement has never been carried out, though the Cemetery Company has retained a section of its ground separate from other sections, subject to the demand of the City authorities in accordance with their agreement.
Notwithstanding this agreement, interments in the public grounds of the City cemetery continued as before. Public attention having again been called to this fact, an ordinance was passed October 24th, 1864, by the Common Council, forbidding interments in the Chicago cemetery, except in lots which had been sold (p.64) by the city. Burials continued as usual; the ordinance remained a dead letter until September 4th, 1865, when a resolution was introduced and passed by the Common Council, directing that the provisions of the ordinance of October 21st, 1865, [sic] be carried out. Since then, we believe with but few exceptions, no interments have been made there, save in lots owned by individuals, for which the thanks of the community are due the present Common Council, although they did no more than their duty.
Interments in the public part of the Catholic cemetery have been discontinued for some time by order of the Bishop, although they are still made in private lots.
By a recent decision of the Supreme Court of Illinois, the title to about twelve acres of land of the “Old City cemetery” has been declared to be in the heirs of Jacob Milliman, deceased. In consequence of this decision, an ordinance was introduced and passed by the Common Council January 22, 1866, making the necessary provisions to vacate the tract, rather than repurchase it on the terms asked by the heirs of said Milliman. The action was judicious, both in an economical and sanitary point of view, and is an evidence upon the part of the Authorities that they are alive to the importance of the trust confided to their keeping by their fellow citizens.
From the foregoing, it will be seen with what pertinacity the burial of the dead has been continued within the Corporate limits, and in direct violation of prohibitory ordinances. Evasions are daily taking place by parties, who, though legally exempt form these prohibitions, violate their spirit and intent, to the obvious detriment of the health and lives of the residents of the vicinity. There is a moral turpitude in such conduct, in view of the probable approach of a malignant (p.65) epidemic, which should arouse the indignation of all. *
* From an article published in the “Chicago Republican,” of March 12th, 1866, on “The Health Department,” and evidently published by authority, we extract the following, referring to the duties of “City Undertaker.” He “is required to bury all deceased patients from the Lake Hospital, unless the remains are taken in charge by friends. Formerly ground was provided by the city, but by action of the Authorities this has been relinquished, and the undertaker is now required to locate the ground at his own expense.”
There now remain over two thousand lots, exclusive of the “Milliman Tract,” in which interments are made without violating the ordinances of the Corporate authorities. The patients who died of small pox, have been buried in the public part of the Chicago City cemetery, at an average depth of from three to four feet, owing to the fact that the graves cannot be dug deeper on account of the water.
If, as has been proposed, the so-called Lake Hospital, heretofore known as the Pest House, is to be used for the accommodation of patients suffering from cholera, should we be so unfortunate as to have a visitation of that epidemic, whose dying in that institution would, as those now dying there, be buried in the City cemetery, and undoubtedly from the emergency arising from the necessity of speedy interment, many other bodies would be deposited in the public grounds, unless prompt and stringent measures are adopted by the Board of Health, and their execution vigorously enforced. All such interments would be additional to those who would under the present ordinances be legally entitled to burial there in lots owned by themselves or relatives, within the cemetery, and the probable results need not be here repeated.
We therefore, do no hesitate strongly to urge the necessity of prohibiting absolutely, and under heavy penalties, all further interments within the Corporate limits of the city, and we predict that should this not (p.66) be accomplished, the mortality will be greatly increased in the event of cholera becoming epidemic.]
p. 66, cont.
Let immediate steps be taken to prevent all future interments within the Corporate limits, and as soon as practicable let arrangements be made for the gradual removal, at proper times and seasons, *
* No removals should be made from May to November, and this year none from the 1st of April.
Of the remains of those already interred, with the ultimate view of converting these grounds into a public park, which shall contribute to the health, pleasure, and credit of our city. For years to come the soil, now saturated with noxious emanations, is only fit to be used for such a purpose, or the cultivation of vegetable growths which shall absorb and render innocuous those gases which, if emitted into the air, would be otherwise injurious. The sooner this is accomplished the better, both in an economical and sanitary point of view, while at the same time, less violence would be done to the feelings of the friends of the deceased whose remains are there deposited, than if further accumulations should be permitted. It is inevitable that, sooner or later, the growth of the city, as well as public sentiment, will demand and enforce the complete vacation of the present City cemetery. The history of all large cities, both on this continent and in Europe, sufficiently proves this assertion.
We have thus somewhat at length traced the origin and history of intramural interments, and proved, from chemical, physiological and pathological stand-points, the evil effects of the practice upon the health of the living. We have shown that this custom is universally condemned by the highest medical authorities of both Europe and America, and that in most countries and states the civil authorities have broken it up, and compelled the burial of the dead far from the limits of the cities and populous towns, and at a depth beneath the surface sufficient to prevent the contamination of the air. Here in the midst of what is now a rapidly growing section of the city, with a great public thoroughfare bounding it on one side, and with dwelling-houses surrounding it on three sides, we have a tract of land to which thousands of bodies are annually consigned in shallow graves, and in a loose soil which permits the (p.68) escape of the gases that are evolved into the surrounding air which we breathe, and the soluble organic matters to be carried into the waters of the Lake which we drink. If this practice is permitted to continue much longer, this city of the dead will be more populous than that of the living. It is true that the ordinances prohibit public burial, but there is nothing to prevent the purchase of lots by the undertaker, and of their appropriation to miscellaneous burial. Let any one who is skeptical on this point visit the cemetery, and he will see graves “thick as the leaves that strow the vale of Valambrosa,” graves almost in contact, without a hillock thrown up, and a mere slap of wood to mark the spot, with the initials or numbers of the occupant rudely marked thereon. Thousands of rebel prisoners were consigned to this common receptacle, in violation of a public ordinance, and yet no cognizance was taken of it. Such a state of things cannot continue long. Let the Authorities act, and act promptly and efficiently, in anticipation of a public sentiment which will soon compel them. Why defer action now which must soon be taken, even should we escape a visitation from the threatened pestilences? *
* Just as the last sheets are going to press, we have information by telegraph that the cholera has made its appearance in Key West, Florida.